These portraits of inner power are a testament to South African spirit


Every portrait by Jodi Bieber is a statement. Her subjects stare down the camera. Here I am, they seem to say. Bieber doesn’t capture people as she views them, but as they see themselves. A grainy honesty pervades every frame. She photographs both pride and pain with compassion. “I believe in people, and who they are as individuals,” Bieber says. In front of her lens, they have the freedom to reveal their authentic selves.

After studying at the Market Photo Workshop, Bieber got her start covering the 1994 democratic elections. Over the past two decades she has gained international acclaim for her work. Bieber published a number of books, covering topics from the transformation of Soweto to women’s body positivity. A defining moment of her career was her 2010 portrait of Bibi Aisha, a young Afghan woman whose husband cut off her nose and ears. From Bieber’s viewpoint, Aisha was a survivor who defied vulnerability. “I always try and get the power of the person,” Bieber says. The image landed the cover of Time magazine, and Bieber was awarded World Press Photo of the Year, her tenth prize from the organisation.

Bieber’s work has always offered an unflinching look into the lives of people. Her latest series, #i, is a poster campaign focusing on South Africa’s youth. In it, young adults voice their hopes and dreams for the future. “They are going to make shifts and create their own new story,” Bieber says. Her portfolio spans decades, each image a love letter to her country and its people. “South Africa completely influences and inspires my work,” Bieber says. By sharing our stories, we can recognise the power we all have within us.